In one of his first public speeches since becoming chairman and CEO of United International Pictures (UIP), Stewart Till has said that he does not expect to see a European multi-territory distributor emerging in the near future - due to a lack of both money and expertise.
"With some honourable exceptions, such as Pathe, few [distributors] have managed to set up distribution outside their home market," said Till, who gave the keynote address at the first Screen International European film finance summit in Berlin on Wednesday.
"I don't believe that will change and distributors looking for economies of scale will continue to find it in exhibition and broadcasting and not in multi-territory expansion."
Attempts by Canal Plus to establish a pan-Euro distribution network have been scaled back in recent months amidst a major cash crisis at parent Vivendi Universal, while PolyGram Filmed Entertainment (PFE), of which Till himself was president of international, was disbanded after being taken over by Universal Pictures.
Till said PFE had invested between $500m and $1bn into trying to build a pan-Euro network. "PolyGram came close but we didn't get the cigar," he said wryly. " Now I don't see any European company willing to risk $1bn or very few individuals with pan-territory expertise or little or no knowledge outside their territory. [But] we'd be a better industry if there was a European company working on a worldwide basis."
On the eve of the 53rd Berlinale, as festival delegates began pouring into the city after a particularly bruising year financially, Till confronted the biggest dilemma facing the European film industry: supply and demand.
Citing the collapse of the European pre-sales market, Till commented: "In effect, the whole independent producer, sales agent, independent distribution food chain is collapsing."
However, Till also said that there were opportunities ahead, pointing out that in 2001, European consumers spent a huge $15bn on filmed entertainment, a sizeable part attributable to the explosive take-up of DVD.
He called on European companies to take advantage of this voracious appetite for content. "The message is, stop worrying about out-of-date geographical parameters. Stop worrying about the nationality of money. We are all operating in a worldwide market place and the successful European companies and individuals will be the ones who act locally and think globally."
Perhaps in a sign of his future intentions at UIP, Till said European producer power "will reside with individuals like Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Luc Besson, who make films for an audience, while retaining their European sensibilities.
"The top producers will align with distributors to ensure that outside their local territory'they can harness the marketing and distribution expertise of the big distributors. I would hope that UIP could be one of those distributors, expanding the reach and impact of European films across the whole of Europe."
Till also predicted the arrival of day-and-date releasing across Europe, a four-day weekend with films released on a Thursday, the advent of digital distribution which would increase diversity and that cinemas "will try to schedule less like exhibitors and more like broadcasters".